A contemporary bandana brand based in courage and authenticity, Jenni Earle is bringing a positive message to the world.
Written by Jenn Thornton
No one needs to tell designer Jenni Hopkins about the ties that bind. Her homegrown brand Jenni Earle, which produces modern, made-by-hand bandanas that are cut and sewn in the Carolinas and feature Western-inspired motifs and mantras, is testament to that. As well as to courage and authenticity, two things Hopkins learned from her beloved grandfather—and partial brand namesake—Earl Puckett, who taught her to see mistakes as opportunities to learn and grow. “He was the real deal,” she says.
So too is the West Virginia-raised Hopkins. “Growing up nestled in a mountain valley, where you can only see a sliver of sky, makes the world seem like a manageable size and scale,” she says. “I felt safe.” But the American maker also had a spirit for wandering and found herself—metaphorically and otherwise—on the road, even settling in Texas for a time. “The first time I felt the air in Texas and saw that wide, unencumbered sky, a sense of peace came into me and I really understood that line,” says Hopkins, who confesses to never having enough vintage denim, pear snap buttons or cowboy boots. “I may have been born in Appalachia, but my soul was born in the West. There is just something about it. It feels like possibility. It feels wild, like it’s daring you to throw caution to the wind. Now when I dream and draw, it’s these landscapes that I live in.”
Hopkins brings that feeling for narrative to Jenni Earle, fashioning its bandanas—including the Blaze a Trail, Roam Free and Chin Up Buttercup versions—to be inspiring and encouraging messages to the world. These mantras are the heartbeat of Jenni Earle, she notes. Hopkins describes her first bandana as an “attempt to translate the bravery that Earl taught me in his garage to the people who needed that reminder for themselves.” To that piece she added a subtle “be brave” as a “pep talk for the wearer,” she says. After all, “One of my favorite John Wayne quotes is ‘Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway.’ This is the heart and soul of our brand.”
It also begs the question: What bandana would Hopkins design for the Duke? “Oh, what a thrill that would be!” she muses. “I am dreaming up a medium blue-grey bandana, to bring out those baby blue eyes of his, with a small desert sand color hatch mark pattern. When I think about cowboys, I think of them making plans in the dirt with a stick, maybe drawing out what way to head the cattle the next day or a count of the horses. So, I think of those hatch marks. It would be a simple pattern and the mantra would read, ‘Saddle up, pilgrim.’”
Having taken that advice and run with it, Hopkins is at the forefront of the modern-day makers who are reviving America’s craft traditions. “The maker movement is such an inspired collective,” she says. “We are thankfully seeing a swing back to the soul-enriching work of hand-carved, hand-dyed and hand-built.” Having added some wall art, letterpress note cards and playing cards to the Jenni Earle repertoire, she adds, “The most joyful you’ll find me is elbow deep in dye or fabric or paper, figuring out how to make the thing I’ve dreamt up. Next, we might step into journals or hats! Who knows? To me, the ideas are limitless.” While the brand evolves, the motivations behind it—“making tools for people who want to live rich, authentic lives that they dream from their heart and soul” and focusing on local and sustainable production within the U.S.—is unchanged. “If I leave the world a little braver than I found it, I will have done my job,” says Hopkins.
Photographs by Liz Nemeth (except where noted)